Wednesday, 3 June 2009


“I’m glad the Reich Duke and King Basil enjoyed their visit.”

“We did ourselves proud, Ostenberg,” Grand Duke Karl replied. “A wedding; fireworks beyond compare; a superb ballet; the Reich Duke made an honorary Colonel of my guards; young King Basil an honorary Captain of the Riverine Flotilla; and we sent them both on their way with our good wishes and a dozen cases of Doppeldorfer each.”

A light cannon boomed in the middle distance. Both men raised their telescopes as one to view the field of action before them. “Kuster has his troopers well up, I see,” Karl said.

“Yes. That gun won’t faze them much, Your Grace. See, they’re already limbering up. That’s sensible. Our cavalry will catch them otherwise.” Ostenberg lowered his instrument. “From all appearances the Gravies have little to contest our passage until we reach the walls of Randstadt.”

“What news from the north?”

“Matters are progressing, Your Grace. General Rauppen-Schlepper is pressing them, but not so hard that they will turn and fight. I think Creighton and young Horngebläse will be contesting the crossing at Wentwitz anytime soon.”

“Horngebläse, yes,” Karl murmured, watching as the enemy gun withdrew. “I must see about giving that young man a title. For all Ursula’s feistiness she’s still a Grafin and it won’t do to have her married to a commoner for long.”

“Perhaps you should wait until that young fellow performs another valorous deed, Your Grace. That way it’ll be seen as a natural reward.”

“A good point, old fellow. Yes, make it so. I don’t think we’ll have long to wait on such an event. Ah!” Karl pointed. “There go their rearguard battalions. Make ready to move up.” He glanced at his fob watch then up at the sun. “We’ll close with Randstadt by tomorrow evening at this rate.”

“Very good, Your Grace.”

* * *

The small town of Wentwitz looked picturesque as the flotilla approached from upriver. Red tiled roofs and yellow reed thatch glowed under the late morning sun and projected an aura of rural peace that Horatio feared would not last for long. He tilted his head back and directed his voice to the lookout perched on high. “Masthead there! What’s the enemy’s progress?”

“They’re two miles off to the south-west and closing, sir,” the reply came. “Their hussars are leading at the trot.”

“They’re likely hoping to seize the bridge for their army before we reach it, Commander,” Captain Creighton growled. “From what I saw of them, those hussars are armed with carbines or musketoons.”

“Either weapon would be as good as a musket for street fighting, sir.” Horatio glanced at the soldiers of Regiment Brabenachel. “Our numbers won’t be any greater than the hussars either.”

“Then let us be thankful we have our guns and mortars.”

Horatio stirred uncomfortably. “I don’t like the idea of firing upon civilian dwellings, sir.”

“Neither do I, lad, but needs must. In any case, our orders are to delay the Gravies, to maul them as best we may before allowing them passage.” Creighton rubbed his chin. “Load a blank charge in the leeward gun and fire it. That’ll warn the townsfolk to expect trouble.”

The gun was loaded and aimed safely out at an empty water meadow. There were folks abroad in the streets and on the vital bridge of Wentwitz, and few paid much attention to the flotilla, a familiar sight on the river. But every one flinched and stared as the blank charge roared. Birds rose squawking from trees and reed beds.

Acheron passed the town limits and Creighton nodded. “Close with the wharf, Commander.”

Horatio shouted his orders and Acheron swept closer to the timber wharf. A burgomeister of the town was already waiting there, his face puce with indignation. “What is the meaning of this, sir?” he shouted. “You are disturbing the peace!”

Creighton looked up at the man, his expression calm, although Horatio knew he would be seething at being so addressed by a mere civilian. “Your peace will be disturbed in much greater fashion sir, were you to see what approaches your town from the south-west.”

“What do you mean, sir?” the man exclaimed. “Are we under threat?”

“God in Heaven, where have you been these last few weeks!” Creighton exploded and Horatio grinned as he busied himself giving orders to secure Acheron. “We are at war, sir!” Creighton waved his arm. “The army of the Margraf even now approaches this town. My flotilla will unload soldiers to defend you and your property as much as we may whilst inflicting a blow to the enemy too. I suggest, sir, that you evacuate at least the women and children and summon your militia!”

The burgomeister stood and stared until Creighton actually stamped his foot with impatience. Only then did the man turn and hurry away. Horatio was relieved to see the news was already spreading through the town. As the brow clattered onto the wharf some public-spirited person in a nearby church began to ring the tocsin.

“All ashore who’s going ashore!” Colonel Brabenachel called cheerfully and his men began to file quickly up the brow and onto dry land. Brabenachel turned and offered his hand to the naval officers and they shook it. “I’ll go with my boys and see they get into trouble, gentlemen. Good luck to you both!”

“You can depend on us to support you, Colonel,” Creighton growled.

Brabenachel beamed and touched his hat in salute. “I know I can. All honor to the navy” He turned and strode up the brow on the heels of the last platoon. “Here goes for a brevet or a coffin!”


Capt Bill said...

The Reich Duke and his entourage had an excellect experience in Hetzenberg now its on to the Pricipality of Saxe-Bearstein...

Frankfurter said...

Ah yes, Ursala and her commoner ...
and the prince and HIS commoner ...
And I suspect it will soon be you and somebody very nicely uncommon!

Bluebear Jeff said...

A fireworks display . . . and now to some real fireworks, eh?

-- Jeff

Fitz-Badger said...

Hurrah, the story continues! :-)